Ayman al-Zawahri
Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaida leader. Photo by Reuters
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While the ability of Al-Qaida's senior leadership to direct global terror operations has diminished, the threat from loosely linked affiliates and individuals is growing and becoming more sophisticated, UN experts said Wednesday.

In a report to the Security Council, the panel monitoring UN sanctions against al-Qaida pointed to the growing sophistication and reach of terrorist propaganda on the Internet. It also pointed to recent attacks in Boston, London and Paris that, it said, highlighted the "persistent challenge" of terrorist acts committed by individuals or small groups and the emergence of a strong al-Qaida presence in Syria's civil war.

"Individuals and cells associated with al-Qaida and its affiliates continue to innovate with regard to targets, tactics and technology," the report said.

"While the threat posed by al-Qaida as a global terrorist organization has declined, the threat posed by its affiliates and its infectious ideas persists," it said.

The report was written before the Obama administration's decision to close 19 U.S. embassies and consulates in 16 countries in the Middle East and Africa, triggered by an intercepted secret message between al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri and his deputy in Yemen about plans for a major terror attack.

The assessment of the UN experts' largely coincides with the Obama administration's stance on al-Qaida.

U.S. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Tuesday that despite the recent embassy closures, the administration believes "the leadership of the al-Qaida core has been weakened, decimated."

"But we remain concerned about the threat from affiliates," Psaki said.

The U.N. experts said the waning influence of al-Qaida's leaders is evident in al-Zawahri's unsuccessful attempts to mediate internal conflicts between al-Qaida and Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaida in Iraq that has been fighting against the Syrian government. Al-Zawahri, who replaced Osama bin Laden, also was unable to end infighting within Somalia's al-Shabab militants.

"A degraded senior leadership, based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, continues to issue statements, but demonstrates little ability to direct operations through centralized command and control," the experts said.

Nonetheless, the experts said, "its rhetoric and its calls for attacks continue to mobilize violent radicals, regardless of where they are based."